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Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani denied in court testimony Wednesday that he forced the firings of a police officer and two firemen involved with a racially insensitive parade float, and that he wanted them fired to deflect criticism of his administration’s conflicts with blacks. Testifying in a First Amendment case brought by the fired men, Giuliani said his public statements that the men would be fired — comments he made over a month before the actual disciplinary proceedings that ended in their dismissal — were merely “predictions.” The former mayor insisted on cross-examination that Police Commissioner Howard Safir and Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen were allowed to “exercise their independent judgment” in deciding whether to dismiss the men for their participation in the “Black to the Future” float at the 1998 Broad Channel Labor Day parade in Queens. But Southern District Senior Judge John Sprizzo, who will decide the case after a bench trial, told the former mayor, “You’re the boss and if people disagree with you, they find their way to the door.” The judge also questioned the wisdom of Giuliani’s remarks in the week following revelations that Police Officer Joseph Locurto and firefighters Jonathan Walters and Robert Steiner joined other men in black face on the float to mock blacks and re-enact the notorious dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in Texas. The mayor was quoted during that week as saying, “I’m not going to take the responsibility of keeping him [Locurto] on the police force and then, three years from now he kills somebody and someone wants to know why he wasn’t removed.” He added that the “only way” Locurto could return to the police force after being fired would be if the U.S. Supreme Court ordered his reinstatement. Wednesday, Judge Sprizzo moved to the heart of the case, asking the mayor why he made such strong comments if not for political reasons. “If you’d just gone weaker you might not have had the political impact,” Judge Sprizzo said. “But then again none of us would be here.” Despite some pointed questions by the judge, Locurto’s attorney, Christopher Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union, found it tough to advance his theory of the case: that a mayor often embroiled in controversy over police actions in racially charged cases pounced on the Labor Day float as an easy way to counter his negative image. Dunn is trying to show that this image-burnishing was the real motive for firing the men and, as such, was an “impermissible motive” for retaliating against speech and conduct protected by the First Amendment. The city claims that it has the right to fire the officers because of disruption in government operations posed by their behavior, and the possibility of civil unrest. MILLION YOUTH MARCH Dunn introduced media reports and editorials critical of the mayor’s refusal to grant a full permit to the Million Youth March in Harlem, held on that same Labor Day weekend. He also introduced reports expressing anger on the part of commentators and community leaders over what they said was a heavy-handed police presence at the rally. Assistant Corporation Counsel Jonathan Pines objected frequently, telling Judge Sprizzo that the introduction of the news clips was pointless and “absurd.” For his part, the mayor said he felt the police did a fine job containing and then dispersing the crowd at the Million Youth March. He said that most of the criticism of him and the police tactics used there was nothing out of the ordinary. And he said he did not recall some of the more caustic statements by critics about his approach to the rally, thereby implying that he had no motive to repair his reputation. Marvyn Kornberg, who represents Steiner, attacked the mayor for meetings with his police and fire commissioners after the Labor Day incident in Queens, in which Kornberg said the mayor, at a minimum, derailed any possibility of a resolution short of firing the men. Von Essen closed the second day of testimony at the trial by telling Judge Sprizzo that he initially expressed skepticism about firing the men but, in the end, it was his decision. The judge said he was less than persuaded. “I have a feeling that, in your heart of hearts you felt that dismissal was a little harsh,” he told Von Essen.

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